Opinion

Trump Won't Give Netanyahu the West Bank as a Reelection Gift. Because of Iran

The most settler-friendly president ever won't let the Israeli right's dreams of annexation scuttle a regional alliance against Iran. And there's nothing the Christian right can do about it

U.S. President Donald Trump  speaks to the news media as he departs for travel to Colorado from the White House in Washington, U.S., May 30, 2019
\ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

President Donald Trump’s peace plan was never going to work anyway.

So in that sense the absurd turn of events that has lead to a second Israeli election in 2019 won’t be the reason why the scheme cooked up by presidential advisor/son-in-law Jared Kushner will not result in his father-in-law being able to boast that he was the one who brokered the "ultimate deal" that finally brought peace in the Middle East.

>> Palestinians to Trump: No to Bahrain, Bribes and Never-ending Occupation >> Abbas, Go to Bahrain. For Palestine’s Sake, and to Help Us Halt Iran 

All the Saudi and Western money in the world won’t buy peace. The Palestinian Authority leadership will not negotiate, let alone accept, a peace plan, that doesn’t prioritize the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines.

Nor can they be enticed into being part of a process that emphasizes economic development, even if the sort of help that Kushner is talking about - and which will be the focus of the economic "workshop" in Bahrain to be held next month - is something the Palestinians people desperately need.

This is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never acted as if he was truly worried about a Trump peace plan forcing him to accept concessions on the West Bank that would outrage his right-wing allies. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already said "no" to more generous offers than the one that will be mooted by Trump.

Palestinian rejectionism has always been Netanyahu’s ace in the hole, and there is no reason for him to think that Abbas will suddenly decide to become a pragmatist.

And now that Israelis will have to wait another few months or more to get a new government, that will further reduce Trump’s hopes that the financial blandishments that the and his Gulf state friends will put on the table will somehow jump start the dead-in-the-water peace process.

But the Trump peace push still presents a threat to the Israeli right’s hopes of annexing the West Bank in one form or another.

Trump’s critics tend to think Kushner’s plans will give Israel a blank check. But those elements of Netanyahu’s coalition busy pushing plans to annex parts of Area C in the West Bank have always been worried that the scheme would resemble past U.S. diplomatic efforts – and scuttle their plans.

So while Netanyahu’s right-wing allies may be no more certain than their opponents about whether another election will reshuffle the political deck to their disadvantage, this is one aspect of the Trump peace push that isn’t going to be derailed by the collapse of the coalition negotiations.

File photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a session of the weekly cabinet meeting, in Ramallah, West Bank, April 29, 2019.
Majdi Mohammed/Pool via Reuters

As much of an exercise in futility as the Trump plan may be, if the Israeli right or the Palestinians think Washington will now shelve its initiative, they’re wrong.

Trump has every reason to keep going with the Bahrain summit and to expect Netanyahu’s continued support. That's because it is as much of an effort to forge a regional alliance against Iran, as it is an unrealistic effort to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians. The Saudis and other Sunni states that have been going along with this charade don’t disagree.

Though the Palestinians aren’t going to Bahrain and the P.A. leadership rightly views Kushner’s economic ideas as a threat to their dictatorial and corrupt hold on the West Bank government, the U.S. and the Saudis have every reason to keep going. Doing so helps isolate the Palestinians and makes clear that their intransigence won’t prevent the rest of the region from pursuing polices to counter Iranian influence - in cooperation with Israel.

By flipping the script of all past peace efforts and downgrading the Palestinians' territorial ambitions to a secondary role, and instead emphasizing plans to build the foundation for peace with economic development, Kushner is in synch with Netanyahu.

But although Trump has given the Israeli right more than it had ever gotten from any U.S. administration with respect to Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and efforts to hold the P.A. accountable for subsidizing terror, it was still not going to countenance moves on the West Bank that undermine the theoretical chance of peace eventually becoming possible.

Another election won’t change that. The Israeli right should also not be laboring under the delusion that they can count on Trump’s right-wing Jewish or evangelical supporters to turn on the president if the U.S. continues to pressure Netanyahu not to let annexation go forward.

The Jewish right has good reason to be grateful to Trump for reversing President Barack Obama’s push for more "daylight" between the U.S. and Israel, and for a host of measures that aligned Washington’s agenda with that of the Likud-led government.

U.S. senior advisor Jared Kushner, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Mideast advisor Jason Greenblatt at Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. May 30th, 2019
מתי שטרן / שגרירות

But as much as Trump’s has been the most settler-friendly administration imaginable (including the installation of a supporter of the settlements as U.S. ambassador to Israel), the right’s annexation hopes are still antithetical to Kushner’s peace plan.

As much as support for Netanyahu’s government is a priority for pro-Israel activists in the U.S., the focus of American conservatives in the next year and a half will be their efforts to help Trump win what promises to be one of the most bitterly fought presidential elections in U.S. history.

In a political environment in which both sides are so divided, no one in Israel or the settlement movement should think this is a moment when their supporters in the U.S. can credibly threaten to withdraw support from Trump in order to push an annexation agenda - about which not even Netanyahu is enthusiastic.

Since he has already delivered on so much they wanted up until now, neither the Christian right nor the Jewish right has much leverage over Trump.

So while the Trump plan won’t bring peace to the Middle East, its shelf life will last long enough to make sure that even if a new election does bring about another right wing government in Jerusalem, the U.S. will still act as a check on the settlers' dreams of annexation.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin